Shaper: Claire Mason

Show aired on 25th July 2015

Transcript

Elliot Moss
An energetic start to Jazz Shapers here on Jazz FM with me, Elliot Moss. Good morning, I hope you are having a god one. This is the place where you can hear the very best of the people who are shaping the world of jazz, blues and soul alongside their equivalents in the world of business. That’s right, a Business Shaper. My Business Shaper today is Claire Mason; she is the founder of a great named agency called Man Bites Dog, they specialise in business-to-business marketing and public relations. They are a consultancy to clients like Google and Bupa and most of the big professional service firms in the world of accountancy and law. She is going to be a cracker because she knows how to deliver a message – at least that’s what she told me earlier. We will soon find out. In addition to hearing from Claire, you’ll be hearing from our programme partners at Mishcon De Reya some words of advice for your business and on top of all of that, a brilliant mix of music from the shapers of jazz, blues and soul including The Rebecca Ferguson Tribute to Billie Holiday, new music from Terence Blanchard and this from Kurt Elling.

That was Kurt Elling with, here it goes I am going to try and do it in Portuguese of course because it is in Portuguese, Você Já Foi à Bahia, I am sure that was completely wrong but anyway it was a lovely track wasn’t it. This is Jazz Shapers and Claire Mason is my Business Shaper here on Jazz FM and Claire is the founder of Man Bites Dog. Man Bites Dog is a three million pound business. It has been running for just over ten years, a decade in business. We are going to find out how that feels and as I said earlier, clients including Bupa and Google. Thank you so much for joining me Claire. What is it that you actually do because people listening aren’t in the world of communications, public relations and marketing and other words like that. They won’t know. Tell me a little bit about what you do and then we will talk about how you got there?

Claire Mason
So ten years ago I set out to solve a particular challenge. We have seen the rapid growth of high value services and the knowledge economy but how an earth do you market those things because you can’t see them you can’t touch them, they are intangible. So what we do at Man Bites Dog is we take of the expertise that’s locked up in some of the best minds in business and we turn it into what we call Man Bites Dog stories and what we mean by that is big ideas. Ideas that lead markets.

Elliott Moss
Okay so just so I get a sense of the actual product, the nitty gritty thing that I can get my teeth into – what is it that you actually deliver for one of the professional service firms?

Claire Mason
So let’s imagine that you are a big accountancy firm for example.

Elliot Moss
Or a law firm…

Claire Mason
Or a law.

Elliot Moss
…let’s do that for a second.

Claire Mason
Let’s imagine you are a big law firm.

Elliot Moss
Excellent idea.

Claire Mason
So firstly how an earth do you differentiate in your market because you look just the same as the law firm around the corner. The thing that you can really differentiate on is your ideas, all of the thinking that is locked up in the minds of your amazing lawyers. So the first thing we do is help identify some of those great ideas that will help you stand out. What makes you different. The next thing we do is we package up those ideas in a way that will help them travel. So it could be a big campaign to push a particular idea into the market. So for example, with Bupa we have been working with them on a subject which is very close to their hearts which is about mental health in the workplace. How can we really promote and improve mental health at work and how do we make that idea travel in a really sticky and compelling way so that other people want to take our idea and pass it on.

Elliot Moss
Perfect, I get it and I hope you do to. Claire Mason, Man Bites Dog and she is my Business Shaper today. Time for some music, this is Rebecca Ferguson and God Bless The Child and it is the Billie Holiday tribute from the album Lady Sings The Blues.

The rich and velvety sound, I can’t believe I just said that but I did, of Rebecca Ferguson with God Bless The Child. Claire Mason is with me today, she is my Business Shaper and Claire founded Man Bites Dog, ten years ago. You set up that business, the story goes that you had a couple hundred quid, that you’ve never borrowed a penny since. How did you do it because now you’ve got thirty people plus working for you, your three million pound revenue I mentioned. Firstly, what made you want to do it for yourself and secondly, how then did you go about actually making it happen?

Claire Mason
I think I have always wanted to be an entrepreneur, it’s always been in my mind. My father is an entrepreneur and had no qualms about involving a bit of child labour in his various ventures so we had some great experience from that. And then having seen this burgeoning knowledge economy and the fact that people were really struggling to communicate their point of difference and really sell themselves, it really occurred to me that there was a huge market opportunity to help organisations develop ideas and take ideas from building a reputation, to building relationships, to actually take it all the way through to revenue so I wanted to create a new kind of consultancy that would help organisations right through from their strategy to actually growing their business.

Elliot Moss
And you sensed there was a gap there because you had worked at I think, had a strategy at Midnight Communications another agency and I think you are director at Red Consultancy before you moved in to create your own business. You obviously saw a gap but did you see… were people just not making those links? Were people just not serving up the things that were required to help companies differentiate? Was that what the issue was?

Claire Mason
Absolutely. There is a huge gap in the market. In the traditional market you basically have two kinds of consultancy. You have your consumer agencies who are very creative and ideas generative and then you have your city financial corporate agencies who are essentially just activating what’s already in that business. But if you are a professional services business or a business whose product is invisible there is nothing to activate it. It is about activating experts. So what you need is an agency that is going to generate big ideas for you, take you through that process to actually create an idea that is so compelling it will sell what you do. So I saw a real gap in the market to do something like that, that’s what really drove me.

Elliot Moss
But that’s… and that’s a great thing because that’s an intellectual perspective and you go ‘I can see’ or at least a kind of a thoughtful perspective ‘I can see the gap, I am going to go for it’. Filling the gap, you are obviously a graduate from Oxford so you can’t be silly – she’s not silly I can tell she is very smart – but actually working with people in the professional service world to help them understand what it is that you are trying to deliver to an expert, when its intangible, when they want results tomorrow but it isn’t going to come tomorrow – that’s a hard gig but you’ve built a business on that. How have you done it?

Claire Mason
It’s, it’s an incredibly tough gig and I think that’s what makes it so intellectually challenging and that’s actually what motivates my team, working with people from strategy consultants to rocket scientists means that I have to have a very clever team but also what motivates them is that geeky element of working with experts in their field and over the years we have developed a lot of intellectual property and a lot of processes to take people like lawyers and accountants and rocket scientists through the process of generating an idea with commercial impact because it is not just any idea we are looking to develop, it’s an idea that makes people think something different. What’s your new angle on this subject? It makes people feel that it is relevant to them and it makes people actually do something. So they are very powerful these commercially effective ideas so we have to have a clear process to generate them.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me to hear more about how ideas can impact the top and bottom line. There you go – connecting the two and actually making them commercially viable. Latest travel in a couple of minutes and before that some words of wisdom from our programme partners Mishcom De Reya for your business.

You’re listening to Jazz Shapers with me, Elliot Moss, every Saturday morning I get to chat to someone who is very clever and very successful and very annoying, indeed, very very annoying. A Business Shaper and you can hear any of my 180 or so Business Shapers if you would like to in iTunes or you can go to FT.com to pick up a few there, CityAM.com and if you are travelling on British Airways flight in the near future you can also catch some of the best ones over there as well. Claire Mason is my Business Shaper, she runs and founded the agency called Man Bites Dog. They provide marketing and public relation services to big clients, Bupa, Google and big professional service firms as well. Why Man Bites Dog, Claire? Why is it called that?

Claire Mason
So you may have heard the saying ‘Dog bites Man’s not a story, it happens every day. ‘Man bites Dog’ is a story. So Man Bites Dog is really the definition of news, the definition of an idea that travels, an idea worth passing on and so for me it just absolutely articulates everything that Man Bites Dog is about in terms of developing those incredible ideas that travel far.

Elliot Moss
And when you set up the business ten years ago, did the name come immediately? Was the name a precedent? Did it precede the business or did it come afterwards?

Claire Mason
Strangely the logo preceded the name. I had almost a vision of what the logo looked like and then I read an entire enormous dictionary one holiday and looked for words like all those energetic words that you might look for in a dictionary and tried to buy the dotcom for all of them and failed and tried to register the businesses and failed and so I was thinking rather than having the usual animal and colour as the way people often name agencies, I thought what I really need is a sentence. If we are all about articulating stories, I need a sentence so I was looking for something like ‘Life on Mars’ for example and then I just woke up one morning and it just came to me in a flash. Of course, it’s Man Bites Dog and I couldn’t believe that globally nobody has used that ram so we were able to register it globally and start and be ready to go. So it was hugely exciting and…

Elliot Moss
So you’ve got your purpose which is you want to tell these stories, tap into that knowledge economy you said, bring them out, actually monetise those ideas for companies. You’ve got your name, the bit that’s missing now is why you? What made you be able to actually pull this thing off?

Claire Mason
Because I have actually always attracted the most troublesome clients in every agency I have worked for, I always… my first client was actually Deloitte Consulting and over the years I have always attracted the clients that everyone else found difficult because they didn’t have natural news but what they had was amazing experts. So over the years I had built up ten years’ experience working with these incredible experts and learning how to craft research to actually validate their ideas. So I had all the experience I needed at that point and I felt that I was ready to jump.

Elliot Moss
And that grafting moment though, that bit when you go ‘I am going to do my own thing’. How quickly did you get your first client?

Claire Mason
It was basically immediately. I think when you are an entrepreneur it is really important to start talking about it before you do it because that seems to almost generate opportunities for you. So I was speaking to a friend about my dream to set up this agency and she said ‘Okay then, go on then, do it. I will give you this project if you do it’ and about three weeks later she called me and said ‘Have you handed in your notice yet?’ and I said, ‘No’ and she said ‘Well you’ve got the safety net of this project’, I said, ‘I know, I am not quite ready yet’. So three weeks later she called me again and she said ‘If you don’t hand your notice in, I am going to take this project away’. So she was fantastic, Alessandra. She created a safety net but she also pushed me off the cliff as well so… and then I handed in my notice. I left and two weeks later one of my former clients had squared it with my old boss that they could come to me so suddenly we had two clients and then we did our first pitch in our third week and we won that as well so within a month we were up and running, solvent, profitable and we had a steady income stream for the future and all three of those clients paid us 100% up front because they knew that we didn’t have any resources so that was fantastic to see big companies helping small companies like that to really get off the ground.

Elliot Moss
And so not just thanks to them but thanks to Alessandra, everyone needs an Alessandra as well to make sure you put in… hand in your notice and go and do it. Much more coming up from Claire but right now it’s time for some music, this is Terence Blanchard, it’s called Compared To What and it is off of his new album Breathless.

That was Terence Blanchard with Compared To What. Claire Mason is my Business Shaper. Claire we have been talking about lots of stuff, how you set the business up, that sense of needing to be pushed but with the safety net as well. You’ve had an amazing run. Not only have you grown and you’ve got your clients and your work is respected and you are I believe, you have been lorded to one of these Management Today’s Top 35 Under 35 Leading Business Women and there are other awards that you’ve won or you know, you’ve been… people have said ‘Wow this person is amazing’ but you’ve also got a culture where people are happy to work. You have won lots of awards for a happy workplace. How’s that happened? How have you managed to be successful and have a happy bunch of people with you?

Claire Mason
Everything we do is powered by our culture. Right from day one I wanted to be successful, not despite being a good company to work for but because of being a good company to work for and that strategy has worked so well for us. We spend a lot of time together deciding on our values, supporting each other and we enjoy spending time together so to give an example, one of the girls broke her leg a couple of years ago and had to move out of her flat. The team actually moved her and tidied up afterwards.

Elliot Moss
We thought, she broke her leg, your fired… you didn’t do that, no? It was the opposite.

Claire Mason
No.

Elliot Moss
Good.

Claire Mason
Quite the opposite. So not only did we look after her as an employer but actually the whole team said ‘Right we will help you move flat and tidy up so you get your deposit back’ and that kind of going the extra mile for a pack member in need is absolutely what we are all about and we have our staff retention is incredible. We average about one person a year leaving, usually for their own reasons or relocation and so forth and so the team that we started with is the team that we have now and they are incredible, smart people and what really motivates them is that geekery of working, working with really smart, intelligent clients but also have that incredibly lovely supportive culture so that when you are trying to do something that’s very new or very innovative or very complex and very difficult, you know the whole team will come around and support you and I think that is incredibly important.

Elliot Moss
And where do you think you got that in light of the view of the world that said ‘You know what, I can be successful without being horrible’ because plenty of people that are successful are not very nice, are not interested in culture and values and purpose and all those good things. Was it something… the way you were brought up? Was it your education? Where was it because you went to a comprehensive school as well and you have then moved to Oxford University. These are not small things. What do you think enabled you to view the world in the way that you do?

Claire Mason
I think I’d in some places perhaps experienced the opposite where you have a slight battery culture for example and when you are asking people… you want people to bring their whole selves to work, all of their interests and ideas and personality and if you create a culture of blame or people taking credit for each other’s work, people start to just bring their hands to work and not their minds and their hearts as well so it was very important to me that people would be fully themselves with all their eccentricities and I think also you pick up, you think about where you have loved working and it’s always about the people and the culture and the tone that is set from the top and you also learn from other walks of life as well so for example, my husband’s a musician, the record company that he was associated with had a fantastic team culture and that really inspired me and I think also at University there was a real, in the College that I was at, there was a real sense of collegiat spirit and helping each other in what would otherwise be quite a difficult or intimidating situation. So to me having that gang, having that pack is really really important and that’s where all the success comes from – helping each other.

Elliot Moss
We will have our final chat with Claire, plus we will play a track from The Great Howling Wolf from his pack, that’s after the latest traffic and travel here on Jazz FM.

Good to have The Howling Wolf here on Jazz Shapers, that was Smokestack Lightning. Claire Mason is my Business Shaper just for a few more precious minutes. Looking forward, you’ve grown in ten years. Next ten years Claire, the horrible question. What’s it going to look like for you? Is it a year-by-year plan? Is it a three year plan? Is it the vision for ten years is the following? Where is your head?

Claire Mason
So our vision is to grow and to grow what we are doing. We already do a lot of marketing, business development and public relations and what we are really looking to do is to really expand all of those services out so that we can help clients in every channel that they want to work in. We also want to really continue to grow our innovation capability. We have some presence in the US already so we are looking to expand in the US and then next stop after that will be Asia. So at the moment we do a lot of global work from our London and Brighton presence and we are looking to really actually properly put down some roots in some other markets as well.

Elliot Moss
And is that growth strategy just because you want to be bigger and richer or is it because you just think there is loads of other clients who don’t realise they need Man Bites Dog kind of services?

Claire Mason
I think there’s huge amounts of opportunity in the knowledge economy right across the world and ideally we want to be doing global work because then we are thinking at a strategic level for the whole organisation which is really exciting.

Elliot Moss
And in terms of that team that you have got with you now, how are you going to continue to develop their expertise and their confidence and their ability to grow with you? Is there a plan or does it just happen through osmosis?

Claire Mason
Well we are going through a really exciting period at the moment, we have just created, we have two boards; an operational board and a main board so the team is actually fully running the business on a day-to-day basis now and then we have a main board on top and we are training all of those people, not only in all of the wonderful things they do for clients but in terms of how to run a business as well and all of that strategic thinking and we are also enabling people to design their own jobs. So right across the work force now, rather than just saying here is your career path, we are asking everyone to design their own career path, what they want to be in charge of and almost making everyone a mini entrepreneur in terms of what they are doing.

Elliot Moss
It sounds like it’s like this perfect little nevarno company, not so little actually. I mean, what are you going to do? You surely sound like you are going to set up another thing and another thing and another thing or is this it? Is this the thing you are going to do and just make it perfect and brilliant?

Claire Mason
I think there is so much potential in creating incredible ideas and so this is my thing, I absolutely love it, the team are incredible and what we want to do is just keep growing and keep learning every day.

Elliot Moss
Thank you Claire, you’ve been a great guest and I really appreciate your time. Just before I let you go, it would be remiss if I didn’t say what’s your song choice and why have you chosen it?

Claire Mason
So my song choice is No Time To Play by Guru and it features Ronny Jordan and DC Lee and the reason I have chosen this is that it’s, it’s like one of those theme tunes that follow me around. And for me it’s about that feeling of when you are building something, when you are in the zone, you are so busy and it is so chaotic but there is so much joy in building and that’s what I really love about this song, he’s got no time to play but he’s loving every moment of it.

Elliot Moss
Here it is just for you. Thank you very much.

That was Guru featuring Ronny Jordan and DC Lee with No Time To Play – the song choice of my Business Shaper today, Claire Mason – saw the opportunity ten years ago to create really meaningful ideas that would drive revenue in this new knowledge economy as she called it and really critically and I think it has been the foundation of the success of the business, she’s created a happy, healthy learning culture. A place where she said the pack of people are super super prepared for what clients might need. Great stuff. Join me same time same place, that’s next Saturday 9.00am here on Jazz FM. In the meantime, stay with us because coming up next, it’s Nigel Williams.

Claire Mason is the Founder of B2B marketing and public relations consultancy Man Bites Dog. A decade ago she set out to solve the challenge of how to market the knowledge economy. Today her multi award-winning team works with some of the world’s smartest organisations, turning their intangible expertise into Man Bites Dog stories.

This year, Claire was named Female Marketing Leader of the Year by the Chartered Institute of Marketing, and Man Bites Dog was recognised as Outstanding Consultancy of the Year by the Chartered Institute of Public Relations.

The business Claire founded on her dining room table with a £200 overdraft now employs more than 30 expert consultants and operates across the world. Along the way she has created a supportive pack culture which balances exceptional performance and collegiate caring – winning PR Week’s Best Place to Work for the past six consecutive years.

Claire is passionate about the power of big ideas to deliver remarkable commercial impact and is a frequent media commentator on innovation, thought leadership, B2B brands, entrepreneurship and culture. Claire has an English degree from Oxford University and an MA in Romanticism from York University.

A born entrepreneur and innovator, she worked on her first business at 14, published a book at 25 and, aged 30, established Man Bites Dog as specialists in communications for the knowledge economy. Claire is an active member of the entrepreneurial community and has been recognised as one of Management Today’s 35 Under 35 leading business women, listed as one of the UK’s most outstanding young entrepreneurs in Growing Business magazine’s Young Guns, and named one of the UK’s most influential communicators by PR Week.

Follow Claire on Twitter @womanbitesdog or @manbitesdogpr

Listen live at 9am Saturday.

We have seen the rapid growth of high value services and the knowledge economy, but how an earth do you market those things? You can’t see them and you can’t touch them, they are intangible.

The thing that really differentiates you is your ideas.

I wanted to create a new kind of consultancy that would help organisations right through from their strategy to actually growing their business.

If you are a professional services business or a business whose product is invisible there is nothing to activate it.

I have always attracted the most troublesome clients in every agency I’ve worked for – they didn’t have natural news but what they had was amazing experts.

When you are an entrepreneur it’s really important to start talking about it before you do it because that generates opportunities for you.

Our first clients paid us 100% up front because they knew we didn’t have any resources – it was fantastic to see big companies helping small companies to get off the ground like that.

We have that incredibly supportive culture so when you are trying to do something that’s new or innovative or complex, you know the whole team will support you.

That’s where all the success comes from – helping each other.